Friday, May 10, 2013

Ghosts of Turnpike service areas, silent on the Newark Bay Extension

Drive eastbound on the Turnpike's Newark Bay extension, and as you approach Exit 14B for Liberty State Park, you might notice the road widens somewhat briefly on both sides. It's almost as if the road's a big snake that's swallowed a mouse but hasn't yet digested it. In recent years, the widenings have been filled with construction equipment and materials for the construction work being done on the Vincent Casciano Bridge over Newark Bay. Every time I pass them, I get this nagging feeling that the spots were once small service areas many, many years ago.

Turns out they were.

Details are rather scant, but it seems that the pair were named for John Stevens (eastbound) and Peter Stuyvesant (westbound), two personalities with connections to the Hudson County area.

Stevens, of course, is the name of a notable early New Jersey family with roots in Perth Amboy. The first famous John Stevens was born in 1715 and served in the Continental Congress. His son John was as an officer in the Continental Army and later did duty as state treasurer. The younger man's greater fame, however, came through his contributions to transportation, particularly using steam power. His craft Phoenix became the first steamship to sail the open ocean when it traveled from Hoboken to Philadelphia in 1809. More famously, he established the first steam ferry service between Hoboken and New York City in 1811.

A few years later, Stevens and several partners were awarded the nation's first railroad charter, establishing the New Jersey Railroad. Predictably, he experimented with steam-driven trains at his Castle Point estate in Hoboken. After his death, the property passed to his son Edwin, who later bequeathed the land and a million dollars for establishment of an institution of learning, now Stevens Institute of Technology.

Peter Stuyvesant, well, he's probably a bit better known, but more commonly associated with New York. In the days when the Dutch West Indies Company ran Manhattan and surrounding areas as a business, Stuyvesant was sent to essentially clean house as director general of New Netherlands. His immediate predecessors had both mismanaged the colony and turned a blind eye toward some rather, well, permissive behavior.

Stuyvesant's tenure was a mixed bag. On the positive side, he negotiated disputes with the Lenape, fostered education and is credited with many reforms that encouraged a more family-oriented environment in the colony. Unfortunately, he also squelched religious freedom in a community that had long advocated tolerance; his actions against houses of worship other than the Dutch Reformed Church were ultimately rescinded by Dutch West Indies Company directors.

I was a bit confused as to why he warranted a Turnpike service area, until I read that he opened the land west of Manhattan for settlement. Some consider him to be a founder of Jersey City, crediting him with overseeing the formation of the village of Bergen, now the location of the city's Bergen Square.

Back on the Turnpike, the Stevens and Stuyvesant service areas were closed in the early 1970s. I haven't uncovered a reason why, but I'd conjecture that they were either too small or too disruptive to the flow of traffic rushing toward or from the Holland Tunnel. Drivers can get their last (or first) taste of lower-priced New Jersey gasoline closer to the Tunnel, so perhaps the Turnpike options were priced out of existence in during the oil crisis of 1973. Your guess is as good as mine.

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